1955 Oldsmobile 98
Gilded Serpent presents...

Dancing with Legends: Interview of Freddie Elias, Part 2:

The Clubs and Fellow Musicians

by Artemis Mourat

posted 2-12-09

This interview was recorded in June. I was determined to meet the world famous Freddie Eliaswho has inspired my dancing since the early days of my career. So I decided to create my own workshop in the Boston area just so I could meet him. I was even willing to sponsor myself. Coincidentally Za-Beth emailed me and asked if I wanted to teach a workshop for her in Boston. I said I would love to and had been planning to do one. I explained that the reason why I wanted to teach a workshop in her area was so that I could meet and dance to Freddie’s music. So, I said I did not want to incur a potential extra expense for her but I wanted to come there on that condition. It did not matter to me if I danced in a small restaurant or if we did a big concert show in a theater but I had to have that show with Freddie. Those wonderful shows with a band are an endangered species these days. Freddie had played on many of the records that I loved so much as a baby dancer. Freddie is in his 80s and still playing. Hells bells, none of us are getting any younger! I was going to have my show. Fortunately Za-Beth and Freddie are really good friends. She was planning on having them play for our show anyway! So, my good buddie Bonita Oteri and I went to her home town of Boston. She had always wanted to meet Freddie, so we coordinated a visit to see her family with my workshop weekend. It was a wonderful weekend and I asked her to write the introduction for this piece. [ed note- we used it in part 1] Special thanks go out to Bonita and also to Ariel who carefully transcribed hours of interview tapes. (*1)

I worked a great deal in New York and in Boston. In the 1950s, Boston was unbelievable. There were three clubs, one, two, three {He puts his hands side by side} That is how close they were together. They were filled up seven nights a week. You couldn’t get in. The most difficult job we had was getting the night off. And in those days they had eight musicians in each club. It was unbelievable.

When you speak of money, I’m talking about the 1950s and we were paid well. At that point I bought two brand new Oldsmobile 98s.

In those days they didn’t have 93s. We came on back roads to get to work. It took me two and a half hours to get to Boston and I worked seven nights a week. That is why I went through so many cars.

Fred Elias's Birthday PartySeven nights a week I played the Zara Club for fifteen years, at the Khiam Club for twelve years and at El Morocco for maybe sixteen. Those were the three main clubs. We had six dancers sitting on a stage and they could take the night off at any time as long as there was another dancer. But the biggest problem we had was that we could not get a night off. We were tired but it was great. I used to drive by my parent’s house at 4:00 in the morning on my way home. I blew the horn as I drove by their house so they knew I was home alright. My father took me aside and told me that I was killing my mother because she stayed awake all night until she heard my horn.

So, it went from the ridiculous to the sublime. Then I started taking two trains home from work. The first was the regular train and then I had to take a milk train that stopped every 20 minutes to drop off the milk. I was not getting home until 7:00 in the morning. We worked hard but it was worth it.

In the clubs in those days, everybody was so friendly and nice. Our era was so beautiful - the respect, the dignity, the self esteem that was involved in our scenario was beautiful. At Easter, the customers brought sweets and the boss gave us time to acknowledge these gifts. Nobody brought me liquor because they knew I did not drink. At Christmas too, they brought me candy and pastries. We all took care of each other. Every body was so kind in those days and generous. I will give you an example of how special people were. You will not believe this but last year, on my 85th birthday, Peter Karalikas, who owns three T bone steak houses, put on a surprise party for me. He hired me to play at a party but it was actually a party for my birthday. He was from the good old days and all these years later, he still thinks of me.

Lp with John Tatassopoulas
LP made with
John Tatassopoulos
jazz lp
A Greek jazz album
listing Fred Elias

And I got to know such wonderful people. Fortunately, I worked with the three greatest bouzouki players in the world of that era. Do you remember John Tatassopoulos? Did you two know him? I was at the Astor too but not in the beginning. When I went to Washington, DC, I was at the Port Said. Do you remember the Port Said record album? I worked there for four years and then I came home. I lived at John’s house while I was there. And I was there for four years. His mother would cook us wonderful meals. There was a swimming pool across the street and I became a lifeguard.

Then I came home and my mother said; “You look dead. You’re not going out anywhere.” So anyway, I got back home and John called me and said; “I’m starting at the Black Ulysses, are you interested?” I went right back and we stayed there in DC for about three more years.

John Tatassopoulos, he could take any Arabic song and he could battle with the quarter tones and make it work. He knew all the classical songs of Mohammad Abdel Wahab and Farid El Atrache. He was the only bouzouki player alive who could do that. You see, the chord structure of the bouzouki does not accommodate the Arabic maqams. It will sound so dissonant, it will sound like poison but John knew how to take a chord and make it work. He and I used to practice four or five hours after work. We went over maqams together. John Tatassopoulos’s son Nicky is one of the best bouzouki players in Greece. He used to call me “Uncle Freddie.”Mohammad Abel Wahab's Tears of Love Movie poster

I loved that Arabic music too. I had loved Mohammad Abdel Wahab’s music since I was fifteen. I will never forget his first movie. It was called; “Tears of Love.”

He was in a scene where he was singing and the wind was blowing and his hair and necktie were not moving. His girl friend commits suicide and he jumped in the water to save her and the water only came up to his knees. {We all laugh}

The three best bouzouki players in that era were John Tatassopoulos, Hioti Minori and Bebe.

Hioti Minori was a great bouzouki player too. I worked with Hioti and his wife for seven months at the Zara in Boston. They came from Greece. He played the bouzouki and she was a phenomenal singer. Her name was Maria Linda. And so help me God I have to mention this, ten years later I went out one night socially to a club. She was appearing at a place, I think it was Athens after Dark. I hadn’t seen her for all those years and she said; “Frederico!” And I said, “My God, she remembered me!” Unbelievable.

In Boston at the Zara Club, my boss was a great guy. He hired nothing but the best. Not that everybody was not great, everyone is great in their own way. Have to love everybody. But it was very interesting. Hioti composed great songs. One time, I wrote lead sheets for eight songs that he wrote. (* 5) He then went to New York and he handed the musicians the lead sheets and they recorded the songs on records. He came back and gave me $1000. I mention the money here because he didn’t have to do that. We were working together and he was like my brother but he insisted that I take the money.

Hioti was the one who invented the extra bass string on the bouzouki. So he went to the Gibson guitar factory and had them make him a special bouzouki with the extra bass string.

Another good friend of Fred Elias is Christos Papoutsy. Together with his wife Mary, they maintain an extensive website on Greek music and culture. You will find pictures of many of the musiciancs named in this article pictures on their site- www.helleniccomserve.com
Here is one example below &
Fred's Birthday photo above
Papoutsy Orchestra
[ed note- I need help with who's who!]

Bebe, he was big as a giant. He could play a chord for every note that you can play. He was unique. Bebe, unfortunately, died of drugs. They just ate him up. But he was truly great and I worked with him. I don’t understand drugs or drinking either. Why do you need those things to play well? If you are a good musician, you are a good musician. You do not need those things to make you play well.

Before the service, my mother and dad opened a restaurant for me and wanted me to manage it but after two weeks, I was not there anymore. I left. I had a call to go to the Ice Capades in Atlantic City, New Jersey, because I had known the young lady before (who was to become my wife). My late brother, Philip Joseph Elias, who was 45 years old at the time, said; “Do you know what you did?” Well, they forgave me. It just wasn’t my thing. I just could not stay home and run a restaurant. I had even tried to work for my brother for a while. He was in the banking business. Philip sent me on a job to repossess a car.

I drove to the location and found a nice young family, a couple with their baby. They were on their way to the beach. I asked if I could have the keys to the car but then I could not take the car from them. I made them promise to say that they were not home when I got there and I told them to enjoy the beach.

When I got back to the office, I told my brother that they were not there when I arrived. I am sure he knew the truth. He took me off that job and told me; “This is not the job for you, not with a heart like yours.” He was a wonderful man and he died at 48. {He pauses} I just had to play music.

Before that there was an Italian guitar player named Carl Tela on Wilson Street in Manchester, New Hampshire and I found that he played with a Greek band. So he called me one night after I had the pleasure of meeting him and he said; “Why don’t you come down some night and we’ll jam?” So, I went to his home which was five houses from the restaurant where I was supposed to work,

...and here was an Italian, playing all these Greek melodies. I was mesmerized. I discovered that Greek music is fantastic.

I said; “Where did you get this?” And he said; “I play in a band with a Greek man named Ernie Hatsis and the name of the band is the Carl Hatsis band.” So I then met with the band and we ended up making three records together. They kinda liked me I guess.

Then there was this young one from West Roxbury, MA. His name was Anton Abdelahad. He was the greatest supreme vocalist in our era in those days. He was an oud player too. We traveled all over the country, from here to Oklahoma and San Antonio, Texas. Anyway, to make a long story short, we also used to go to New York every week in those days. We played for Syrian Jews. They had these big Bar Mitzvahs. They spoke Arabic and they loved it. They told us that our music was better than the Israeli music!  I’m not favoring any nationality. I love everybody. I got all my education from Anton.

There was this great violinist from Providence, Rhode Island, Phillip Solomon. Unfortunately he died of sugar (* 6). He was sensational and he was my idol. We played many jobs together and he was just so beautiful. He would never let me sit in back of him. He always pushed me out to the front. I remember those things because they’re so important in a person’s life. There was no one there giving themselves a grand philosophy. They never acted like; “I’m a big guy and I want for you to sit back there, behind me.” He was a great person. He was a great jazz player too and he knew every mode, Byzantine music too. Phillip knew the structure of the Byzantine music, the cymbals and the whole thing. He had been a great jazz player in the 1930s and he played with a big orchestra. He was my idol. Unfortunately he had passed away

Part 1, Part 2 - you are here , Part 3, Part 4

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